November is Virginia Oyster Month and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recognizes the commonwealth’s oyster farmers. These farmers are as important to the agriculture industry as the ones who plant corn and soybeans or raise beef or chicken on dry land. Virginia’s oyster farmers are an important part of Virginia’s agriculture economy. While all of agriculture contributes $91 billion a year to Virginia’s economy, the dockside value of the oyster harvest alone was $35.8 million in 2016, up from $28 million in 2014.
In addition to their economic significance, oyster farmers and dry land or traditional farmers are alike in many other ways. Oyster farmers raise a crop just like other farmers. Both farmers’ crops start with seeds. Seed oysters are alive, but they are seeds just the same. Oyster farmers invest a lot of money in heavy equipment just like regular farmers; one has boats, the other tractors, but they are equally impressive (and expensive).
The goal for both oyster and traditional farmers is exactly the same: to produce a safe, healthy, delicious and abundant food product. Both also take excellent care of the natural resources entrusted to them. Whether they farm land or water, Va. farmers protect, support and enrich their natural environments.
Just like traditional farmers, oyster farmers are very innovative. They develop and use new or improved species and varieties; they are very dependent on technology and they market their products in creative ways. They know their farms have tremendous appeal to the non-farm public, so they host farm-to-table or water-to-table dinners and many of them embrace the concept of agritourism and invite people onto their farms or waters to experience the life of a farmer for a dinner, a day or a weekend.
Farmers on water and on land practice crop rotation to help keep their ground productive. On land, farmers may rotate corn with soybeans and in the water, they have different growing areas depending on the size of the product, whether it’s oysters or clams.
All farmers, on land or sea, have to be resilient and a more than a little bit tough. They work in all weathers, their jobs are physically demanding and they have to bounce back quickly when adversity strikes.
Oyster farmers love what they do; their job is both vocation and avocation. So, too, do land farmers. Many of them have been fascinated with growing or raising things since childhood and they wouldn’t want to live and work anywhere else.
So during Oyster Month and all year long, VDACS encourages all Virginia residents and guests to thank a farmer for all they give us: food, scenic views, recreation, an enviable lifestyle, a can-do attitude and at its most basic, an alternative to starvation. For information on all things oyster, see virginiaoystertrail.com/.